Changes in the 23rd edition—2017 (downloadable at right)
Four species ADDED in 2016 to Checklist of Alaska Birds (in taxonomic order)
Calliope Hummingbird Selasphorus calliope: Hatching-year male, 3-5 Sep 2016, Auke Bay, photos by Gus B. van Vliet and Patty Rose. Casual, because of its long, enigmatic, unsubstantiated past in se Alaska. Its history in Alaska began with Willett’s 1921 statement (in Bird notes from southeastern Alaska. Condor 23:156-159): “According to [local resident F. H.] Gray, quite common at Wrangell in spring and fall during some years; other years apparently absent.” In the absence of any pre-1921 published mention of this species in Alaska, however, Willett’s explicit intention (op. cit.:156) “to include only species regarding which some fact or facts have come to light that add to previously published matter regarding them” would seem to make his 1921 report enigmatic. Four+ (silent) decades later, there were six (unsubstantiated) reports from the late 1960s through the 1980s (male, [no date] May 1967, Juneau, Richard J. Gordon; female, 6 May 1968, Juneau, RJG; at least one, summer 1968, Juneau, fide RJG; one, 27 Jul 1974, Juneau, Evelyn S. Dunn; male, 14 Aug 1975, Little Port Walter, Baranof Island, Alex C. Wertheimer; and female, 18 Jun 1988, Mitkof Island, Peter J. Walsh). Insert in Family Trochilidae following Rufous Hummingbird Selasphorus rufus.
We’ve been playing with data and seeking gaps in the collection. After the jump check out the .gif of how the collection has accumulated Alaska specimens since 1950. It’s a neat look at geography and time.
Several years ago, Dan Gibson and I published a paper on Asian birds coming to North America through Alaska entitled “The Asia-to-America Influx of Avian Influenza Wild Bird Hosts Is Large.” In this paper we reversed the conclusions of a popular model of the global spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI). We suggested that wild birds are a greater risk than domestic poultry for bringing HPAI into North America. Since then, our model proved the more accurate, presaging the arrival in North America in fall 2014 of a pure Asian strain of H5N2. Wild birds were implicated, and we inferred passage through Alaska. This strain of HPAI went on to cause the worst poultry disease outbreak in U.S. history, resulting in billions of dollars in economic losses.
Brina was a true scientific pioneer, and she blazed a bold new trail in Alaska ornithology for succeeding generations. I am honored to have had the opportunity to work with her and am proud to try to carry on in her tradition. KW.
(Brina’s brother Quentin wrote the following obituary. A salutory article from 2007 and a partial list of Brina’s publications by Dan Gibson follows that.)
It’s going to be a great year! Get out and enjoy the birds of Alaska with a copy of the authoritative checklist. You can get a copy by clicking at right or here.
As of January 2016 the total number of species known to have occurred in Alaska is now 510. The five added to the Alaska list in 2015 were: Continue reading
Our paper is out this month in the Journal of Virology pointing to the importance of Beringia in the intercontinental spread of avian influenza.
A figure from the paper showing the movements of birds and the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus H5N8 in 2014.
A word cloud of the paper’s contents
Thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation, the Bird Collection has undergone a critical facilities upgrade with the installation of new cabinets and a compactor system. This gives us space we desperately needed. We are currently moving, rearranging, and re-housing the whole collection into and around this new space. We continue to occupy our old, 1980s cabinets and compactor space; this new addition was put into to space we obtained during the museum expansion. It is so cool. We had a hard time believing just how many cabinets could be squeezed into that space. Have a look at some photos…
When you walk the basement halls of a museum, you are likely to encounter weird stuff.
Sadly, our good friend and colleague Robert W. Dickerman (RWD) passed away recently. Bob was active with our group for many years during the summers, and the Bird collection has over 1,500 specimens that he was associated with either as collector or preparator. Bob was one of the most dedicated collections professionals and specimen-based researchers the world has seen. Andy Johnson wrote an excellent summary in 2012 of some of Bob’s career. Among Bob’s professional accomplishments included over 230 publications and at least 59 subspecies of birds described. Highly active well into his 80s, Bob may be gone, but he and his accomplishments will be long remembered by us and by many other ornithologists.
Bob Dickerman in the field in Tabasco, Mexico, 1955 (R. W. Dickerman)
Bob Dickerman in the field in Nome, Alaska, 1998 (K. Winker)
Bob Dickerman, Brina Kessel, and Dan Gibson, 2005 (K. Winker)
We were pleased to host Jason Froggatt last month for some intensive work in the bird lab. Jason is Collections Manager in Natural Sciences at the Auckland War Memorial Museum in Auckland, New Zealand. He took the opportunity to come up here to learn some of the tricks of the trade that have served us so well in developing our modern and relatively heavily used bird collection. Jason spent every day, hands-on, with our processes, learning how we work with skins, skeletons, tissues, and stomach contents to preserve a diversity of samples and how we handle the associated data. He also had many keen observations from his own experiences that he gladly shared with us. We had a great time and look forward to future interactions with Jason and the Auckland War Memorial Museum!
Jason Froggatt prepares a bird specimen